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Over the last 3 years, I've spent a lot of time reading about successful people's habits and routines that help them perform at such high levels. I figured it was a good place to begin learning how to try to put myself in the best position to do well and consistently learn something new.
I knew nothing about these types of routines or at least never really thought about it because I was always in school. It was either I was in class or studying, hanging out with friends, or at soccer practice. That was really it. It didn't cross my mind to think of the best ways to prepare myself for the next day or make the most out my weekends, because I didn't have a job!
I mean come on, at college, there was beer pong like 2 days a week. And then the weekend came. I had priorities alright??
It was way more fun to hang out with friends playing Mario Kart, FIFA 09-12 and Super Smash Bros, so whatever.
But once I started my first job and realized how much time everybody wasted and how much I didn't want to end up like them, I started to read everything possible on the routines and habits of high-profile executives. At the time I read literally every Business Insider article on the topic and also bought a couple of books on the subject.
Soo, without further ado, let's get to it.
20 things you can do to help you learn more and stay focused:
Read every day
Reading every day has helped me complete over 100 books in a little over 3 years. I can say with 100% certainty there's no freakin' way I would be able to have this blog going if it wasn't for reading every day. Okay maybe it wasn't EVERY day, but it was pretty damn close.
Monday through Friday I was reading two hours a day for over 2 and a half years because of my commute. I figured, what else am I gonna do?
Eventually, I got in the habit, and it felt weird if I wasn't reading while I was on my commute. I put all my distractions away (my phone) and read the whole time. In the morning it feels best because it feels like I have already accomplished something important, so it sets me up for the rest of the day feeling good.
So in a way, thank you NJ Transit and thank you, Chris Christie, because, without your BS, there would be no blog.
Exercise every day
This took me a long time to finally get into. But enough was enough for me. I was tired of literally being tired all the time and not being in shape for pick soccer games. I would come home late from work, eat and go straight to my room to lay in my bed and watch tv and pass out.
But after a couple of years of only going for runs on the weekends, I sucked it up and started working out every day. For once in my life, I actually started using weights. It's way better than just running, let me tell ya.
Immediately I felt better and had more energy throughout the week.
Even if you can't do a traditional workout every day, find ways you can incorporate walking instead of taking the subway, taxi, elevator or whatever else you can replace. Every day I walk to work from the PATH station not only because it saves me money, but because it gets me an extra 2.5+ miles of exercise each week!
And for a New Yorker's paced walk, that's pretty good!
At least try working out every other day for like 5 minutes if you don't do anything and notice how much better you feel. Start small and go from there.
At the end of the day, write down what you want to accomplish tomorrow
Every day before I leave for work, I write down the top 5 things I want to get done the next day. Realistically, I know I will be lucky if I get through 3 things I wanted to get done, so I always list them in order of importance. It's very helpful for the next day because I don't even have to waste energy thinking what needs to get done today, aside from all the emails and distractions from everyone else that comes with working in an office.
I use my morning hours to try to knock out all I can before I go to lunch and get hit with emails while I was away from my desk. Depending on my mood I'll either set myself up with something easy to do to get in a rhythm, or if I'm feeling ambitious if there's something I really don't wanna do, but I know really needs to get done, I'll list it first and dedicate all my time to it before anything else if possible.
It's been a super helpful strategy for me.
Write down 5 things you are grateful for at the beginning/end of the day
So I don't actually write anything down, but I do make myself think of what I'm grateful for, mainly so I get out of the bad mood I'm in. In the morning when I'm commuting to work I'm especially cranky, so I try to think of things while I'm on my way to work dodging everyone getting in my way and reckless taxis and truck drivers honking at me because I'm crossing the street too slow even though I have the right away (which only makes me want to walk slower to piss them off).
It gives me the perspective that no matter what, things could always be worse and things don't last forever, so it's always good to think of the things in your life you're grateful for. For me it could range from my friends, my girlfriend, family, finally having my own apartment or even knowing that at the end of the day no matter what, I will be in my bed at some point.
There have been several studies showing the benefits meditation has on your health. Ranging from your heart health to your memory and even the makeup of your brain in general, it's insane how effective meditation can be if you're patient with it.
I've been slacking with this because once again, I realized I only started up again because I was feeling stressed out and it's kinda counterintuitive when you go about it that way. You get impatient with it when it doesn't work or when you have a distraction in the middle of it and can't regain focus.
Tim Ferriss mentions in his podcast that over 90% of his interviewees in Tribe of Mentors practice a form of meditation.
For more on meditation check out my earlier post too.
Set clothes out for the next day the night before
Putting my clothes out the night before makes a huge difference for me. I'll be honest, I have to thank my dad for this, but don't tell him or else he'll just bust my balls all day long about it.
Before I started doing this, I would frantically rush in the morning trying to figure out what to wear. I try to sleep as late as possible, so the few minutes I have in the morning are very precious. If something slows me down, it literally could be the difference of 45 minutes some days if I miss the train and find out the next one was delayed or canceled. And it's happened, believe me.
Now, before I go to bed, I set all my clothes out. My socks, underwear, undershirt, dress shirt and pants are all laid out so I don't have to already be making decisions first thing in the morning.
Which leads me to my next thing.
Create a morning routine to allow yourself to run on autopilot
This is HUGE for me, and now I realize how important it is after reading about all the people who do the same as Gary Vaynerchuk, Scott Adams and Mark Zuckerberg. Thanks to Business Insider for all their articles on executives who follow a routine, now I finally get it.
Having a morning routine allows me to focus on other things I need to get done throughout the day, without even having a thought on what I should be doing in the present while I'm getting ready. My clothes are laid out and my sandwich has already been made the night before.
All I have to do is get everything together I set up last night, and I'm on my way. It's the same routine every single day. Because of this, I can now focus on either things I need to get done first thing at my job or what I really prefer, what I want to get done with my blog when I get home from work.
My morning routine allows me to think about these things consciously as I'm preparing for my day. Better yet, later on in the day my subconscious will do the work and figure out problems I was consciously thinking of in the morning.
Sometimes I'll have an idea come to me later in the day because I set myself up with the right frame of mind in the morning. Then I'll write whatever was on my mind in my notes on my iPhone.
Use the weekends to catch up on your side hustle and/or plan the week ahead
Saturdays and Sundays are when I get to regroup on what my short-term goals are for the blog. Saturday especially for me, because I use this whole day when I want to go through a course I bought for something new I'm trying to learn. I did this with all of the blogging courses I recommend.
I get up at around 8 or so, make sure I'm working on whatever I'm trying to accomplish that day no later than 10 after some serious procrastination. Then I go for 4 hours with maybe a 15-minute break after 2 hours and then an hour break after the 4. I then go at it again for another 4 hours and then I'm done for the day.
I never try to do anything in 8 consecutive hours without a break, because I notice I start to lose focus and wast my time. And if I'm not going through a course I bought, I'm either outlining another post, cleaning up anything in my blog and working on plans for networking with others.
Sundays are the same thing, but I'll actually publish or schedule the post I was working on. Unless something I can't miss comes up like a holiday with the family or a wedding, I have this schedule on repeat so I don't have to waste time thinking about what I want to do that day.
The weekends are key for me to regroup and look at the bigger picture of what I want to get done.
Make your bed
There's actually a great book that recently came out literally called Make Your Bed by Navy SEAL William H. McRaven. Before I moved in with my girlfriend, I made my bed every morning. It's super important because it helps you set the day right.
It's a habit that sets the tone for the rest of the day to encourage you to keep going. And whether you realize it or not, when you come home into your bedroom from a long day, you feel much better when your bed is made compared to when pillows and blankets are sprawled all over the place.
It's literally your first task of the day, and you completed it before you even left your bedroom.
For me, it was the best way to get started.
Since I can't do that anymore because I get up earlier than my girlfriend, I found something else to do to start the day right. Instead, because I'm naturally a super inflexible person and probably sleep weird, I wake up with a tight back. Now, the first thing I do to set the day right is to stretch my calves and hamstrings to loosen my back muscles.
Psychologically, this puts me in the right frame of mind, and I already feel like I accomplished something.
Work on your side hustle when it works best for you
Everyone is different, and everyone has different styles of doing things. If you have a side hustle idea you want to start, but can't figure out when to work on it, experiment with it and see what works best for you. There's no right or wrong answer.
Like I mentioned before, even highly successful people have different approaches. Scott Adams, the founder of the comic strip Dilbert woke up at 4:00 am when he first started, while Tim Ferriss is a self-proclaimed night owl and wakes up at 10:00 am, but falls asleep at 2:00 am.
It all depends on how you feel at certain times of the day.
Do you feel more creative and productive in the quiet early hours of the day, or do you do your best work at night? Whatever feels right is what's best.
Because I don't like waking up super early from previous experiences with working out at 4:45 am, I work on the blog at night. I also like it because I don't feel like there's a set deadline on when I have to finish. If something takes a little longer than usual, I'll just work longer, whereas I would have to start getting ready for work at 7:00 am no matter what even if I wasn't finished.
Wake up at the same time every day, even weekends
It gets you in a really good rhythm and allows you to accomplish a lot early in the day on the weekends. Nothing is worse to me than waking up late on the weekends knowing I wasted at least 3 hours of the day.
That could have been at least 6 hours of productive time spent working on my blog, but instead, I slept in.
More importantly, it makes it a lot easier to get up for work on Mondays. Whenever I sleep in on the weekends, Monday mornings are even more unbearable than usual.
Surround yourself with people better than you
You know the old saying, “you're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” While I'm not so sure there's scientific evidence to support this, it does make sense.
If you spend most of your time with a certain group of people, chances are you'll have the same values and beliefs as them or at least develop them over time if you can't avoid them at places, like for instance your job.
They influence the way you think and see the world, sometimes without you realizing it.
Since I don't have the luxury to surround myself with the best people all the time, I try to find those I would like to be around through books. As you can see through my recommendations, a few of those people would be Warren Buffet, Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss.
If you want to improve yourself, but can't physically surround yourself with better people, do it through books. I definitely wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for those guys, and I've never met one of them.
Get up early
Getting up before everyone else can literally be the best thing to do out of everything else listed here. It's the calm before the storm, nobody is up, no emails are coming through. If you have a side hustle or want to get a good workout in, there's no better time to do it than before the distractions come.
Leaving everything for the night-time puts you at risk of unexpected events like a delayed commute, last-minute work, happy hours, etc. Even though I was completely burned out, when I did wake up at 4:45 am to get a workout in, I felt much better compared to the days I didn't workout. If it wasn't for feeling so stiff in the morning, I would keep doing it. Since I moved closer to the city, I should probably look into fixing that, oops.
Trim down time spent on meetings and schedule them for late afternoon
If you have control over this, try to waste less time in meetings and schedule them for later in the afternoon. Nothing annoys me more than having a morning meeting over something that could be accomplished in a few emails.
For me, the morning is when I'm most productive and motivated to get anything important done. Once the afternoon rolls around, I'm fighting a food coma, chugging as much coffee as I can without getting the shakes.
The morning allows me to get into a rhythm, so when I get an email inviting me to a conference call at 8:30 am, that really pisses me off, man.
Team meetings usually allow you to be more relaxed and at ease, so schedule them for when people have gotten most of their work done, at like around 4:00 pm.
Also, don't include more people than necessary and try not to make it more than 3o minutes long. Anything more than that is probably a waste of time.
Another thing that really pissed me off was one of my bosses before he left for another job, would schedule a team meeting with like 15 other people and book a conference room for an hour on our calendars. Not only would he do that, he booked the conference room for an extra 3o minutes so we would end up staying later without us knowing. I only found that out after like the second to last meeting we ever had. Nothing extra ever got accomplished in those 30 minutes, and even more time was wasted. Stupid.
Unplug from social media and all electronics at some point during the day
When I leave work, I already notice I feel more awake and less drained. Staring at a computer screen and my phone all day exhausts the hell out of me. I have so much more energy by the time I get home than when I just get out of work it's ridiculous.
This is another reason why I love to bring a book on my commute. It breaks me away from staring at a screen. My eyes feel less strained, which I've noticed also puts me in a better mood.
We have enough distractions in our lives as it is, so putting all my electronics away for even just an hour always helps me feel refreshed. All the noise goes away, nothing urgent is going on and it allows me to have time to just think by myself.
Block off time just to think
It sounds weird at first, but it can really help you in the long-term. Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn is a huge advocate of this (see I told you I get this stuff from Business Insider). Like he says, having this time to be with your thoughts allows you to process everything going on and to make sense of it.
It could be about your direct job, your side hustle, whatever you want. Being able to reflect allows you to think of problems in ways you most likely wouldn't be able to with a distraction right around the corner.
My time to do this is usually during lunch. I take an hour to think about what I need to get done with the blog, work on it a little during lunch and let my subconscious figure it out the rest of the day until I get home.
Go for a walk
This goes hand in hand with blocking time off to reflect and think. Going for a walk has several benefits when you're trying to figure things out.
For one, it enhances creative thinking. Steve Jobs was a huge fan of walking for meetings if that counts for something.
Now, walking doesn't necessarily help with a single focused task, but it allows you to have your mind wander and work out problems. Jeff Weiner is also a proponent of walking meetings.
And if you can help it, try to walk through a park or somewhere with a lot of green. Don't opt for walking through the streets. For example, walking through the city forces me to still have to concentrate on when to cross the street, when the light will change, forces me to make sure a car isn't gonna hit me, etc. In Central Park, I don't have to worry about any of that, so I don't have any interruptions in my thoughts.
Also, walking in nature prevents depression, so that's cool.
Say no to things that don't align with your goals
Your time is precious. You only have so much time on this Earth, you don't want to waste it on things that aren't helping you reach your goals. If you listen to The Tim Ferriss Show, you'll notice it's a common theme for him as well.
He openly admits he rejects several requests throughout the day if he believes they aren't worth his time. And it's nothing personal, it just doesn't align with him.
He even shares rejection emails he receives that he thinks are great. They show you how you can say no, but politely without hurting the other person's feelings. Because the reality is when you're busy being somewhere or doing something that isn't 100% worth your time, it's time lost that you can never get back that could've been better used elsewhere.
Warren Buffett always says his biggest commodity is his time. Money is of no utility to him, but time is and can't be replaced.
Pick 3 things to do each day
I learned this from Warren Buffett (see, surround yourself with great people through books!).
Often your day gets so jam-packed your to-do list or what's really your “wish list” of things to get done never gets accomplished. Typically at best, coincidentally, before I even read that advice, I noticed I really was getting only 3 things done at most that I had written down the night before on my Post-it. I would write down 10 things and found it impossible to get anywhere near close to finished.
So I crossed off 5 and left the remaining top 5 I wanted to get done, and almost every single time I still only got 3 things done.
Learning to prioritize has been one of the best skills I've acquired over the last couple of years, and this rule has played a big part in that for me.
No work Sunday nights
I never do anything work or blog related on Sunday nights. Saturday nights, yea sure, but definitely not Sunday. I use this time to recharge for the upcoming workweek and reflect on what needs to get done for my blog. I don't want to leave myself unrested on a Sunday night, only to wake up Monday morning feeling exhausted from not chilling out the night before.
I spend that time to hang out with my girlfriend. We'll watch a show on Netflix or something and that's it. I'll also put my phone away when I remember because I feel even better when I do that on top of relaxing on a Sunday night.
Is there anything else you guys recommend? What do you do to try to improve yourself every day?
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